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Monday 10 September 2007

Demystifying recycleable packaging [Lurks]

Most of us would like to make informed decisions about products based on their environmental impact, right? Even if you're not a raving greenie, you probably think that it's better to do less harm. Fortunately things are improving quite dramatically, our council in West Sussex is right up in the tables for amount of garbage recycled. However there are some confusing aspects to this and I've always wondered whether it's better to buy plastic (instinctively you think no) or glass packaged stuff, and tetrapaks must be good, since they're made out of supposedly biodegradable cardboard, right?

Well, it seems there's a little more to it from what I've found. First of all, there's good plastic and bad plastic. Here's my council's link to show you exactly which can be recycled and which can't (easily) be recycled, so currently isn't recycled at all. It boils down to this list in a kind of order of difficulty of recycling.
  1. PET - Polyethylene Terephthalate - Drinks bottles
  2. HDPE - High Density Polyethylene - milk bottles and washing up liquids
  3. PVC - Polyvinyl Chloride - squash, water & shampoo bottles
  4. LDPE - Low Density Polyethylene - Carrier bags and bin liners [CAN'T BE RECYCLED]
  5. PP - Polypropylene - Margarine tubs, microwaveable meal trays [CAN'T BE RECYCLED]
  6. PS - Polystyrene - Yoghurt pots, foam trays, hamburger boxes, egg cartons, vending cups, protective packaging [CAN'T BE RECYCLED]

Also, most bottle tops on drinks bottles, milk bottles or whatever turn out to be not recyclable although it's not clear to me why. There is a large facility that takes all these kinds of bottles, sorts them and recycles basically to be used again to make more plastic stuff. Cool. Incredibly according to only 3% of household plastic bottles are recycled! Although I have a hard time believing that based on the league tabels of recycling for our county alone (and there were some that were even better recyling wise).

There's another interesting thing on that site and that's that glass takes up to 40%more transport energy to move versus products in plastics. That's a good point actually, glass is a lot heavier. Also when you examine the reality of glass recycling it transpires that because the UK is a relatively low producer of green glass, there's a danger of coloured green (wine) and brown (beer) glass ending up needing to be shipped to the continent to use. Clear glass though, there's a huge market in and it goes straight back into being recycled.

The real spanner in the works comes from tetrapaks. They're made up of several things including cardboard, plastic and aluminium foil. There was one plant inScotland, that could recycle these but it was shut down due to a lack of supply (!), meaning there's no one that recycles this. They end up on land fill and they're nowhere near as green and degradable as you might think due to the other materials inside them. Basically they're a bit of a green con in some respects, you see the cardboard outter but they're made up out of folded laminates which have a layer of cardboard for strength and other stuff inside used to seal. Incineration is about the only option but in reality, they end up on land fill.

Of course the best option recycle wise is genuinely reused containers such as the milk man. If you consume a regular amount of milk and orange juice, popular stuff like that - then this is great. They take back the bottles and just clean them out to reuse and the aluminium tops can be popped in your recycling bin too. Hell, most of the milk guys run around on EVs too so it's all good stuff.

Ultimately from this bit of research we can come up with some conclusions about various materials. If you've got the choice to buy something in glass or plastic, if the plastic is of a recyclable nature then this is preferable because of the lack of energy costs in transportation. All glass should be recycled since it never breaks down. Glass is the second best option, always try go for clear glass because this is used in the UK.

In terms of plastics there are some no go areas. Margarine tubs, yoghurt pots etcare useless, which is a pain sinceboth don't come in anything other than that. Someone should start making blocks of margarine in wrappers like butter comes in! Plastic bags and bin liners are evil. The latter is clearly a necessary evil (we need to find some replacement if we're wrapping our rubbish in these!) while the former, seriously, take reusable bags to the supermarket. It's a low grade plastic and the printing on them makes for a lot of contamination. Surprisingly brown PET drinks bottles are unrecyclable, which I'll be thinking of next time I buy ginger beer...

And finally, tetrapak is every bit as evil as margarine/yoghurt tubs and should be avoided. That means buy milk in plastic bottles. They say throw away the lids but I'm pretty sure the lids are PET and ought to be recyclable too... Juices you're a bit screwed since they mostly come in tetrapak. Hunt around for juice in plastic bottles instead. Soups in tetrapak is bad, those foil packets such as seeds of change would be an alternative but I think they'd be just as dubious recycling wise, being a mixture of aluminium foil and plastic. ALL packaging that goes in the microwave is bad. So ready meals are evil but then they were anyway.

Polystyrene trays for meat, this is also unrecyclable and so is the thin plastic film on it too. You know what this means? It means you should buy your meat from a butcher. Also if you get polystyrene in other packaging, boxes etc, you should try to reuse it as packaging because otherwise it'll live on a tip until the end of days - which is only partially practical granted. Back on the butcher subject, if you go to a supermarket butcher counter you'll get it in a plastic bag or, hopefully, in waxed paper (biodegradable) in a paper bag (recyclable) - which is vastly better. Ask for the same treatment in a real butcher too.

So, anyway, the all important issue of alcoholic bevvies. Green and brown glass is a bit meh, but if you drink wine you're screwed really. As for beer, you should get cans first and foremost - they get recycled directly into more cans and they're cheaper to transport. Glass beer is simply not worth the weight and transportation costs in my view, and recycling is a heavier prospect also. Where as a bin bag can hold a shit load of hand-crushed beer cans. Plastic bottles is okay so long as they're not brown. Which means cider in brown PET bottles is bad, so cider in glass would be preferable. Spirits in clear glass is better than coloured glass because clear glass has a greater domestic market in the UK and will probably wind up as someone's curry jar.

I think that's about it.


  1. Certainly food for thought. My local corpy don't recycle plastic bottles at all, so our first choice is glass bottles for milk, second choice is tetrapacks.

    Refillable is aften the win, particularly if it's refillable fairly local and not sent back to china for recycling like so much of the UK's waste is. Having said that, the shipping companies recon this is a fairly economical way of recycling as the ships were going back there anyway, but I think they're slightly missing the point, shit shouldn't be coming from China in the first place!

    Theres a couple of refillable options for us, Ecover does a refillable service for its detergents via participating health food stores, which also works out much cheaper. But then you've got to make a separate trip to the heath food store to do this separate from your shopping run, so the green profit gets eaten away.

    I'd love to see more use of re-usable containers. I often buy a salad from a deli/sandwitch bar at lunchtime, every day it comes in a polystyrene carton, wrapped in a paper bag, then in a plastic bag, with a plastic fork and spoon. Hideous waste of materials. Why can't I bringmy own plastic container in, get it filled, get it eaten and get it washed for the next day? Shops should give a discount for this, those materials must be adding to the cost of my food?

    You mention wine. In Rural France it's quite common to keep 5 gallon plastic containers that you drive to the Cave/Vinyard and fill up from a petrol pump sized barrel. Very green andvery good value, but not something you see a lot of in this country.

    There was a big n bag shop in our high street too, which is a great green option, bag up your own cerials/nuts/flour etc and save on cost and packaging, but it went bust pretty sharpish. Perhaps it might do better under a green agenda rather thana cost saving sales pitch.

    Cost is another interesting point actually. It's been well advertised that food costs are rising, and I wonder if more will be done to reduce packaging/transport to help keep the total cost of food down?


  2. On your last point I would say there's pretty clear evidence that wont happen. If costs are up, so are profits per item and then packaging costs as a total percentage cost become less significant. And besides, it's the un--green shit that's often the cheapest anyway which is why they do it.

    Hmm, yes salad bar stuff. On the weekend I bought a salad from Tescos. Non recyclable plastic that, and I think so too are knives and forks. They should be wooden anyway, they're much better!


  3. I wonder if the traditional milkman service was to be brought back (I haven't seen a milkman on his rounds in over a decade) on a national level, we might see a green benefit from the reuse of glass milk bottles?

    Of course, as with all green things you've got to consider the total cost of the product; a PVC squash bottle may be recyclable but how much energy does it take to perform that action? Same deal with the traditional milkman - washing and prepping glass bottles incurs a cost that tends to be hidden from Joe Consumer.

    Interestingly Tesco have just had their green/CSR statement reviewed by some watchdog or other - they claim to be the greenest of all so called "Big Four" but as the review points out, they don't count the cost of their customers driving to and from their increasingly monolithic out of town hyperstores.

    I vote therefore for a new UK scheme that clearly labels everything with the green equivalent of "Total Cost Of Getting This Product To This Point To Date". You'd need an ad agency to make that title snappier of course ;)


  4. Dudes - sorry to be pedantic - but LDPE can be recycled. Maybe your council wont do it... but many people do.

    Check out real facts!


  5. My council wont do it because there's no recycling places to send LDPE they say. I had a look on the site you linked and I can find no mention of a specific fact that LDPE is recycled other than the fact it has a symbol which means it can be.

    Actually the link I sent earlier has a lot more detail than the site you're linking.


  6. I was going to write some shit about incineration, but after doing some catching up i realised you guys are so way behind us in the recycle frenzy the public propaganda factor is actually needed. So ill just do a list of our daytoday shit :)

    Available in all grocery stores are machines that gives you cash for bottles and beverages cans:

    The cash refund is quite high, and that is why it works, especially for the 1.5 liter PET bottles.

    Trash, oh yeah, you got to sort it here:


    hard plastic

    soft plastic





    organic waste

    garden waste



    recycable complicated shit, like fridges, pans, computers, furniture etc (depending on size, some of the shit goes with electronics)

    and finally the golden one: Restavfall, which is basically the rest. And this is where everything goes when your absofuckinglutely fed up with it (this is where everything organic actually goes. Paperbag with rotting shit in your kitchen, yeah thats gonna happen)

    Every apartment building, or group of buildings, has to have a recycling center kinda thing filled with different trashcontainers. Every private house(villa) got 2 trashcans filled with slots for different waste (this varies a bit, some areas got out in the open recycling centers, which just doesnt work, see below).

    This system kinda works. But, of course they fucked it up. They forced (with fines n all) people to start sorting the shit before actually having the capacity to handle it. Which means everyone saw the trashguys emptying all the different trashcans in the same fucking car. That didnt help getting it started. And then they employed retired old fuckfarts(excops) to spy at recycling centers, photographing people who recycled wrong, to fine em. Stasistyle. Now i might be wrong here, but fining someone who actually went to the recyclingplace in the first place might send the wrong signals, especially when they just interpreted the signs wrong. So naturally some dont take the risk and just dump it in nature instead. (Famous case involving very old lady not being able to fit frying pan in the recyclebin opening at public recycle center, leaving it leaning on the container getting a HEFTY fine. Got dragged to court for it).

    It surprised me this year to see you dont have anything like this in the uk though, i mean, every initial mistake (like the above) has been done by other countries. The hardware is already developed and produced, the logistics and the ideas are there to be copied, and more importantly, people GET it and accept it when its done right. And that is quite important. It desperately needs to be done right.


  7. I don't really accept that recycling in this country is "so way behind" Sweden or much anywhere else. There's more to do certainly but it's all happening quite rapidly.We have one recycling bin in every household and no requirement to sort into all the different types of recycling because this is done at plants automatically. Councils here have experimented with fining people who get stuff wrong in their recycle bins, which is a bit retarded as you say - fining someone who was actually trying to make an effort sends the wrong kind of signals. There's moves currently to halve the collection rates on the regular bin - to further encourage recycling which I think is barely necessary, it would seem our recycle bin takes a lot more waste than the regular bin which ends up getting filled by some inconvienient organic waste, LDPE, styrofoam and tetrapaks and that's about it.

    In addition to that, public car parks in municipal areas and shopping centers have banks of recycle bins. It's not every group of buildings in every way like that, because everyone has a recycle bin - we don't need it. The banks of recycle bins at shopping centres sort glass into different colours, paper and plastics. Quite handy because you find you end up with quite a lot of that sort of thing.

    The only real difference between your recycling program in Sweden and the one here, is that you have the compulsary deposit scheme for drinks containers (guts) and we do not, you have loads of bins for rubish that everyone has to sort at point of origin (which is gutsy again, I admire that) where we have automated sorting. The types of things you can put in the recycle bin here is expanding on a county per county basis, you'll appreciate it's a bit more of a logistical problem for a country with 8 times your population. I'm not sure how I feel about compulsary deposit schemes for drinks. The recycle rate for plastic bottles (glass and aluminium is good) is still too low in the UK so I guess I'd have to approve of it if things don't improve soon, but then again they are improving all the time.

    The UK is actually a bit of a leading light in terms of biological waste. There is very wide spread use of garden composters, available through the local councils, and that's where many families place the waste that would sit in the kitchen. I think I'd put that down to the success of gardening television programs and them having advocated thisbacked up with the council'slocal measures.Likewise you can get the council to drop off green bins for garden waste as required (Eg you're mowing, trimming the hedges etc) which gets picked up andgoes to composting. Actually, we need a BIGGER composter because ours is basically full. It's amazing how much stuff you get out of a garden, not to mention a vegetable greenhouse and a lawn.


  8. You should see the garbage dumps here, they are quite impressive, i didnt really understand the scale of it until i saw it a year ago.

    That said, i would gladly pay more to get someone else to do the sorting.

    There is alot of talking about burning more here though, they do it quite a bit already, buses are running on it and houses gets heated from it aswell. But it is abit of a headcase thing. You got the green armada that says no to any burning on one side and the companies whining about economics on the other. And in the middle you got the ones that dont get headlines, doing calcs about saved fuel etc etc, saying that it is a good enviromental thing to actually burn some of it.

    Heh, and when it comes to collection rates. One will always see cars driving to apartment buildings late at night and someone opening the door to the recycling place to let some houseowning friend toss some sacks :)

    But it does work as an incentive to keep waste down, but its been a long road kinda deal to get it accepted (watching houseowners cry after xmas is hilarious btw).

    But the bottle cash is great on so many levels. Lazy fuck that i am i couldnt be bothered before, so i left them in a bag outside the door so the neighbour kids could pick em up and keep half the cash :)


  9. Polystyrene can be recycled but maybe your group doesn't. But the real problem with your direction is that it's based on one factor - recyclabilty. What you have bnot considered are the areas of energy consumption and air and water emissions where plastics as a whole beat the other materials you favor even when recyled content is considered. Have you ever considered the fact that even though something glass, with its major raw material overly abundant and cheap' costs many times the cost of the plastic alternative. Might want to check the facts about energy used in making glass even from recycled glass.

  10. Once you get into it, the carbon footprint of competing products is very difficult to quantify. I had assumed my daily delivery of bottled milk where the bottles were sent back, washed and reused was the greenest option. My local creamery has announced its replacing bottles with Tetrapaks, I had a good old bleat at them about it. To their credit, their cheif exec replied to me with this message:Thank you for your enquiry about "Walkers and bottles". You are right, the Creamery will be taking over Walkers' milk deliveries on the 30th of September. Glass bottles will not be used after that date. . The debate regarding the environmental impact of milk cartons versus glass bottles is a complex one but I will try to give you a balanced view. Firstly, glass bottles do not come from a renewable source and an enormous amount of heat is involved in their manufacture. Both containers are bio-degradable (cartons degrade more quickly as you would expect). Glass bottles tend to be cleaned by the consumer at home using a domestic detergent (washing up liquid) and then again at the bottling plant using an industrial detergent. The manufacture, use and disposal of detergents is a major cause for concern for the environment. Cartons are used once and not washed and re-used. Consumption of electricity for bottle-washing equipment is high as the water used has to be higher than 72 degrees centigrade to achieve pasteurisation. Typically, a glass bottle will make 15 to 18 "trips" ie will be used 15 to 18 times before being broken or kept by a customer for their own use. Transport of new bottles is expensive and each pallet coming from the manufacturer contains 1,100 bottles Cartons are transported flat-packed and each pallet transported contains 33,000 cartons. This would suggest a lower "carbon foot-print" for the transport of cartons than bottles.Efficiencies in the future delivery of the milk will also benefit the environment because at present Walkers and the Creamery have vehicles delivering milk along the same streets. Once the two milk rounds are integrated there will be reductions in fuel consumption, tyre replacement and engine wear and tear etc. The health and safety of the Creamery's staff is another important issue. By avoiding the use of glass we will be reducing the risk of accidents at the Creamery and during delivery of milk. It also reduces the chances of cross-contamination of products - the last thing we would want would be a piece of glass in a piece of cheese or a bottle of milk.Just to give you some background, "doorstep" milk deliveries have dwindled to about 11% of liquid milk sales in the UK whereas on the Island the new combined milk rounds will account for around 30% of milk sales on the Island. It is seen as a valuable service on the Isle of Man and indeed a bit of a social service, especially for older people and families. The Creamery is a co-operative of the Island's 53 dairy farmers and we have actually been supplying Walkers all of their milk for the last four years, so the milk that you will get is the same product that you have enjoyed previouslyI did say I would try to give you a balanced view but I suppose the above text probably sounds strongly in favour of cartons. If it does, I am only presenting the facts! If you are currently buying your milk from Walkers I hope that we will be able to continue delivering your milk. One benefit that our customers do enjoy is the option of paying for their milk by Direct Debit (this is not compulsory). This means no more putting out change for the milk man or posting a cheque etc.I hope that the above information is satisfactory to you but if you require additional information please do not hesitate to contact me by e-mail or either of the telephone numbers below..Regards,Now there's parts of this I don't agree with, the washing twice is bogus, the consumer will wash them with the rest of their dishes, so this doesn't really have an impact. The transport does make a difference of course, tetrapaks are flatpacked transported according to the bloke above, which is obviously far better than anything you can do with bottles. One thing he didn't mention too is that Tetrapacs are made mostly from paper, which is sustainable, glass and plastic isn't.


  11. Yes but tetrapacs are made of paper then coated with plastic and often with foil inside as well. Glass gets properly recycled directly into new glasses. Plastic gets recycled into low grade plastics. Tetrapaks end up on the tip.


  12. I notice my Lurpak carton is made of card now, not like a placcy marg container. It doesn't have any recycling information or a logo on it at all?


  13. Ooo is that right, I was asking about that. Unfortunately the flora fancy pants heart tube declogging anti chloesterol bollocks comes in properly evil non recyclableplastic and that's it.


  14. Great thread btw Lurks. Here in Leeds we do recycle type 4 (LDPE), and we have a full sized wheelie bin for recyclable materials (excluding glass). The problem we have is students contaminating a whole collection by just putting any old shit in their green bin because their black one is full.

    Regarding tetrapaks, on my travels in Canada and America I was amazed at how much common tetrapak recycling was. Every grocery store had a cage for them, and they were always well used.

    My major beef is that the government will not enforce any package labelling measures. So a lot of the time you have no idea what kind of plastic it is. Eager beavers like us can spot the right stuff, but Joe 4 pack has no chance. There has to be compulsory labelling and possibly banning of non-recyclable plastics.